Thursday, June 16, 2016

They are different

Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me. They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful, in a way that, unless you were born rich, it is very difficult to understand. They think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are because we had to discover the compensations and refuges of life for ourselves. Even when they enter deep into our world or sink below us, they still think that they are better than we are. They are different.

F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Rich Boy (1926)

There is much that one could say about this quote. Few of us would turn down the chance to be rich if there were no insuperable caveats, but few of us would use it well. The rich are still different today and there are more of them, but not only the rich. Celebrities are different too, and as far as one can tell they are often different in much the same way because they think, deep in their hearts, that they are better than we are.

It is something we do to people via money or status, including political status. The problem affects both left and right political classes in that they think they know what is best for us. Those who don't tend to be corrupt in one way or another, apart from a modest few who actually try to leave political life in a better state than they found it.

In Wikipedia there is an interesting quote from Matthew Bruccoli about Fitzgerald's story.

"'The Rich Boy' is a key document for understanding Fitzgerald's much-discussed and much-misunderstood attitudes toward the rich. He was not an envious admirer of the rich, who believed they possessed a special quality. In 1938 he observed: 'That was always my experience—a poor boy in a rich town; a poor boy in a rich boy's school; a poor boy in a rich man's club at Princeton...I have never been able to forgive the rich for being rich, and it has colored my entire life and works.' He knew the lives of the rich had great possibilities, but he recognized that they mostly failed to use those possibilities fully. He also perceived that money corrupts the will to excellence. Believing that work is the only dignity, he condemned the self-indulgent rich for wasting their freedom."

Money corrupts the will to excellence, but not money alone. When the political classes become too secure in their status, their generous salary and allowances, their opportunities to mix with the rich and powerful, then they too seem to ape the self-indulgent rich. They too waste the freedom they have been given to make the world a better place. The will to excellence is easily corrupted.


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